John 2:1-11

Turning Water Into Wine

And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves.—Luke 22:17

Fred Binns

No incident of Scripture should be viewed without its context. Miraculous events are no exception, and may in fact require an even closer regard of the context than the purely historical details of the account. This is even more important since we have four gospels in which each writer has his own personal view. Each chose from the rich fund of events (John 21:25) those that suited his particular perspective, yet each account still intimately relates one to the other. All as moved by the spirit spoke of the coming kingdom and the promise of life to all. And it was not just life but that “more abundantly” (John 10:10). This new life was “as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2).

When Matthew spoke of the coming life-giving king, it was of a new growth out of the dried-up hopes of David: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous branch, and a king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth” (Jeremiah 23:5).

When Mark directed his readers to that servant and his life-giving ministry, it was to the fallen house of servants where he looked for that root: “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant The Branch” (Zecha­riah 3:8).

Luke, wishing to show us the man from the dead stock of Adam and his failed labor, shows us the man who gave his life for the world and bid Gentiles to his new work: “Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch, and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD” (Zechariah 6:12).

John saw the glory of the Son of God (John 1:14), the one empowered to create all things (John 1:3), come down to a world in ruins to “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). He also shows us the Branch of Jehovah: “In that day shall the Branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel” (Isaiah 4:2).

Each writer chose those parables, sayings, and miracles which best suited his need to bring the fullness of the blessed work of Christ before the church. With John seeing the glorious “Branch of Jehovah” we have among all four gospels, the most wonderful intimations of the coming new creative work.

With the benefit of the general context of the other gospels, we should look to the more immediate context of John’s gospel itself, particularly since John carefully enumerates the number of days prior to this miracle. He also wants us to note the order of the miracles and their location, as they appear in his record. The first two he describes were performed in Galilee, outside of Judea. He rounds out his account of the incident by stating, quite directly, that turning water into wine was the first of all the miracles that Jesus performed.

Revealing the Messiah

Chapter two begins: “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee.” This was the “third day” from which event? Chapter one contains a carefully recorded notation of days which in this highly selective and concise gospel can only mean that John wants us to note carefully the events connected to the days mentioned. This miracle is part of a continuing revelation of the Branch of Jehovah.

John’s gospel opens with a brilliant display of Christ’s nature as the Word, and continues the notation of days in a more subtle way. The narrative continues with John the Baptist: “The record of John” (John 1:19). Priests and Levites have been sent to John by the Pharisees to ask John about his ministry. Even more interesting is that Jesus is present at the commencement of what is a gradual revelation of himself as Messiah to his future followers. This revelation is made first by John the Baptist, then by the Lord himself. But it is a revelation that is withheld from the priests, Levites, and Pharisees in familiar words we also apply at the end of this present age: “There standeth one among you, whom ye know not.” John was saying that they were in the presence of their Messiah. They only needed to ask and John would have pointed them to him. But they did not ask because they did not believe. Thus passed the first day of this revelation.

The narrative continues: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Because the priests and Levites had returned to Jerusalem, the revelation was given only to the penitents and to John’s disciples: “Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” Thereafter they communicated this wonderful news to their brethren (John 1:35-37, 40,41).

The Lord himself—“The day following” (John 1:43)—gives out this same revelation as he actively seeks those who would be his followers. But first these two disciples are shown where he lives: “Come and see” (John 1:39). What a revelation this is! It is like sitting in “heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6) and it was only the beginning. After the Lord found Philip, we are at once brought to Nathaniel, an “Israelite without guile,” and to the revelation of “the Son of God [and] the King of Israel” (John 1:49).

Next we move from the place where the Lord dwells to Bethel, the house of God, and to the very gate of heaven (John 1:51; see also Genesis 28:17), a revelation that surely lies only within the disposition of the Branch of Jehovah. Then John informs us that on the third day from this last event “there was a marriage.” Since we have taken the trouble to follow John, we see that seven days had elapsed since the first announcement of this new work, of which we read: “And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which bap­tizeth with the holy spirit” (John 1:32,33).

In this announcement, not surprisingly, we have the principle underlying the miracle which was to occur. John baptizes with water, Messiah baptizes with spirit. The Old Order is ­being prepared for the New. The miracle of turning water into wine is indeed the commencement of the Lord’s ministry to Israel, yet in a very special way. We recall his rather enigmatic statement, “Mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). The facts, however, are quite simple: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:11,12).

Strictly speaking, if we may use this term, his work for Israel would start a few days later when he would “suddenly come to his temple” (Malachi 3:1-3). John carefully notes the special order of days as he continues: “After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days. And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 2:12,13). In Jerusalem Jesus cleanses his Father’s temple. The leaders of the nation were “passed over” because of their comprehensive refusal to accept the cleansing of John and their consequent rejection of their Messiah (Matthew 3:7-12). The Lord’s first work was to cast out the money changers and that sets the complete context for the miracle of turning water into wine. Prior to this Jerusalem work, Jesus was revealing himself as the Branch of Jehovah to those who had received him: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him” (John 2:11). “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14; see also 1 John 1:1-3).

Water Into Wine

As we consider this wonderful miracle, let us first consider the various symbolic aspects associated with wine in the Scriptures and determine under its instruction the fullness of “the glory of the only begotten of the Father.”

The most significant use of this special metaphor is the cup that the Lord bequeathed to his followers. It is striking that it was with this symbol of wine that the Lord opened and closed the intimate communion he enjoyed (and still enjoys) with all those who “receive him.” It is present at the beginning of a spiritual work and, as we follow the figure, it is a maturing work as well. The Millennial age is, for instance, marked by the figure of new wine: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim” (Joel 3:18).

Zechariah writes: “For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids” (Zechariah 9:17). This applies to Israel since they will receive the blessings of the new age first. But as the age advances and the nations are brought back, we have the matured (old) wine served: “And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined” (Isaiah 25:6).

The most striking reference to this figure is made by the Lord to the closing of the Jewish age as opposed to the opening of the Gospel age: “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” The whole incident which prompted this remark is recorded in Luke 5:27-39. In addition to furnishing us with a definitive application from the Lord himself, it also emphasizes the important admonition that accompanies the wonderful instruction of the Cana miracle itself.

The incident in Luke provides some interesting parallels. First we find another disciple called (Levi in this case). Again the Pharisees are present. John the Baptist comes to our attention because his followers are mentioned. And most importantly, we have the comparison between that which is old and unready for the new, this time with a direct warning of the responsibility involved. The scribes and Pharisees had drunk deep of the old wine and had little appreciation for the vintage of the gospel; worse, they did not appreciate that the old was running out. But far worse than that, they did not realize that the desiccated wineskin of Judaism was worse than useless—they were violently resisting the new work. Not for them the cleansing John knew they needed. As leaders in Israel they should have been foremost in acknowledging their need for cleansing in readiness for their Messiah. But they had already rejected this and so, although as leaders of the nation they are the first to be present at this revelation of Messiah’s glory (and in his very presence), they are at once passed over.

The significance of the water pots now becomes clear. John has distinctly described their purpose: “There were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkin1 apiece” (John 2:6). Note the words, “after the manner of the purifying of the Jews.” Even if John had not told us that their measure was two or three firkins, they would have still stood as ­condemning witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). Similarly, if we did not know that these leaders had steadfastly refused to enter the offered rest of the new order by consistently opposing the Lord’s healing on the Sabbath, obdurately insisting that their own works were sufficient, we would still have recognized the significance of these six water pots standing ready for this miracle performed on the seventh day, condemning them once more for failing to enter into the rest prepared from the foundation of the world for the people of God (Matthew 25:34; Hebrews 4:3,4).

John does not need to tell us that at the first these vessels had been filled at the word of Moses. We know we are in the presence of the Branch of Jehovah who in the office of the greater Moses is filling them once more: “Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim” (John 2:7). Even then to fully appreciate the significance of this precious symbol of water turned into wine we must turn to the night in which the sacred cup was passed to the disciples. On that night Jesus “poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:5). He said only later would they understand, but he assured them that they were “clean every whit” (John 13:10) and that “through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3).

This sacred lesson of service must be well learned, the more so as we now see that this ministry of turning water into wine was placed solely in the hands of the servants. What a wonderful thought it is to realize that this miracle has been wrought by the Lord throughout the Gospel age as faithful servants have ministered the word to the invited guests (Luke 14:21-23). While there are servants to “fill,” “draw,” and “bear” this miraculous gospel vintage, it will continue to come forth. It will come forth and increase for there must be “new wine” and “well refined”—for all are invited—and the “waterpots” must be “filled to the brim”!

As wonderful as all this will be, this first miracle of the seventh day was preceded by a promise for all the “Israelites indeed” with the words “thou shalt see greater things than these.” The Branch of Jehovah after having fulfilled his work on earth is waiting to welcome his faithful servants home. The cup he filled will soon have been all “divided” (Luke 22:17). They have all seen where he abides; they all know the way (John 14:4). And he has promised to wait for them (Mark 14:25) when in his presence he will pour his wine anew for them. He will do this not as the first born of every creature, but as the only begotten of the Father, first born from the dead.

“She [wisdom] hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table” (Proverbs 9:2). “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory” (John 17:24). What a prospect as we anticipate the time when he takes the cup again and, giving thanks, says, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.” Then “we shall see him as he is.” (John 4:43-54).

1. According to the Companion Bible, one firkin is about nine gallons.